The 4 Secrets of Extreme Couponing

The American television show Extreme Couponing profiles the shopping trips of people who save ridiculous amounts of money on groceries. Grocery bills of over $1,000 are reduced down to under $50 (sometimes under $10!) through the use of sales and coupons. But how practical is this for the average shopper? Let's investigate the secrets.

Secret #1 - Lots of coupon duplicates

Most people buy one Sunday newspaper and clip out the coupons. Savvy couponers will buy several copies when there are inserts with good deals. But the extreme couponers are consistently buying dozens of the same product which means they are getting lots (and lots) of copies of the coupon inserts.

Where do they get them from? One woman said she has "extras" delivered straight to her house while another said they came from "God." In both cases something seems a little out of the ordinary but it doesn't appear they are doing anything illegal. They've just found a loophole in the system to stock up on coupons.

An average grocery shopper won't have to access these channels of extra coupon inserts. But there are practical ways to get more copies.

  • Buy more copies. The extra $1-2 for a Sunday paper is easily justified by the coupon savings that are usually over $50.
  • Ask for copies from friends, family or coworkers. They would just throw them out anyway.
  • Arrange a coupon clipping group and trade coupons between each other.
  • Visit a local recycling center and collect discarded inserts in the bins. You can't be afraid to get dirty in the world of coupons!

Secret #2 - No store coupon limits

The concept of extreme couponing is a little misleading since the shopper isn't buying a balanced collection of items. Instead, they are buying lots of the same products just because they can get it free or really cheap with coupons.

The only way to achieve this is to find a store that doesn't have coupon limits per item. Unfortunately, most stores limit you to three identical coupons making this secret unattainable for most coupon clippers. Before giving up, review all your local store's coupon policies just be sure.

If you have more identical coupons than your store allows, there are still several ways to use them. Make several trips per week or consider having your spouse or friend check out separately.

Unused coupons shouldn't go to waste either. Consider trading them with other coupon clippers or leave extras on the shelves as a nice gesture to shoppers who could use them.

Secret #3 - Coupons that earn money

Some grocery stores will let you earn money if the coupon savings are greater than the price of the product. For example, if a product is on sale for $1.25 and you have a manufacturer coupon that doubles to $1.50, using that coupon earns you $0.25. Now let's say you have 20 copies of that coupon - you've basically earned yourself $5.00 to spend on whatever you want. In the show, that's how some extreme couponers are able to buy more expensive items but still come away with a $10 grocery bill.

Unfortunately, most stores don't allow you to earn money or store credit off your coupons. Also, this is only applicable if your store doesn't have coupon limits and you can acquire lots of duplicate coupons.

Secret #4 - Couponing as a job

Many extreme couponers consider couponing a part-time or even full-time job. The television show featured people who spent over 30 hours a week clipping and organizing their coupons. They also reviewed every weekly circular and painstakingly matched up their coupons with items on sale. And that was just the beginning! Once you identify your target items, you have to organize them and group them so your shopping trip goes smoothly.

The good news is most couponers don't need to spend anywhere close to that much time. Expect to spend anywhere from one to three hours a week though clipping and planning your trips.

Is extreme couponing for you?

Extreme couponing is enticing at first until you realize it's not very practical for the average shopper. Not only do extreme couponers bend the rules, some are questioning if they are outright breaking the rules (see here).

Regardless, don't expect to save 90% on your grocery bill tomorrow. A more realistic approach is saving upwards of 50% assuming you are willing to adjust what you buy based on coupons and sales. Over time, you'll learn how to save more and maybe someday you will take it to the extreme!

• Published: April 23, 2011
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